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Why Legal Translations of Multilingual Contracts Are Important for Businesses

Without proper legal document translations and certified translation services businesses that don’t follow foreign language contract translation laws can run into legal woes. It is very important for businesses to use professional interpreting and translation services when dealing with foreign language speaking consumers, especially when contracts are involved.

Several states have consumer protection laws in place to protect non-English speaking consumers in contract negotiations and agreements.

California has perhaps some of the strictest laws in the country when contracts are negotiated in a foreign language, but other states have similar laws as well.

Recently, a California court had the occasion to address a California statute which requires merchants to provide translations of certain contracts when those contracts are negotiated primarily in a foreign language. In Ramos v. Westlake Services, LLC, (Cal. App. First Dist., Div. 2; October 30, 2015), the plaintiff purchased a used automobile after negotiating with the car dealership primarily in Spanish.

A dispute arose regarding charges related to the sale and plaintiff sued the automobile sales company. Defendant moved for arbitration on the grounds that the underlying sales contract contained an arbitration clause and attached a Spanish translation of the contract. Plaintiff, however, argued that although he was provided with a Spanish translation of the sales contract at the time of purchase, the Spanish copy of the contract was different than the English copy of the contract he was told to sign and did not have an arbitration clause.

The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The court held that Section 1632 of the California Civil code requires merchants to provide translations of certain contracts (including retail installment contracts for automobiles) when those contracts are negotiated primarily in a foreign language. The court explained that the Legislature enacted the statute to “increase consumer information and protections for the state’s sizable and growing Spanish-speaking population.”

In this case, the court found that Ramos reasonably relied on a Spanish translation of the English contract that the dealership provided him and that did not include the arbitration agreement.

Other states have similar consumer protection laws designed to protect non-English speaking consumers. In Illinois, for example, the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act requires the retailer to obtain a signed form from the consumer about their understanding of the contract if 1) a contract is negotiated in a language other than English, and 2) the retailer acted as an interpreter in the transaction.

In Texas, if a loan contract, retail installment transaction, or home equity loan is negotiated in Spanish, Texas law requires that “a copy of a summary of those terms and other pertinent information shall be provided to the debtor in Spanish in a form identical to disclosures required for a closed-end transaction under 12 C.F.R. Section 226.18 [Truth in Lending Act Disclosures].”

Based on the examples set forth above, businesses should be mindful about the laws in their respective states regarding negotiating and conducting business in a foreign language, especially when contracts are involved.

It is critical for the businesses to work with a professional legal translation company to get English contracts accurately translated into a variety of different languages so that non-English speaking consumers are fully informed about the nature of their transaction and the parties involved have a true “meeting of the minds.” Using a professional legal translation service to translate consumer contracts benefits both the business and the consumer and helps prevent costly litigation that can ensue when contracts are not translated property, as we saw in Ramos v. Westlake discussed above.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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